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The result of selective pressures on food acquisition?

McLean, A.N., 2001. Cognitive abilities: The result of selective pressures on food acquisition? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 71, (3) 241-258.


Locating and capturing food are suggested as significant selection pressures for the evolution of various cognitive abilities in mammals and birds. The hypothesis is proposed that aspects of food procuring behaviour should be strongly indicative of particular cognitive abilities.

Experimental data concerning higher mental abilities in mammals and birds are reviewed. These data deal with self-recognition studies, rule-learning experiments, number concept, deceptive abilities, tool-use and observational learning.

A Darwinian approach reveals: (1) the adaptiveness of particular abilities for particular niches, (2) that in complex foraging environments, increases in foraging efficiencies in animals should result from the evolution of particular cognitive abilities, (3) that phenomena such as convergent mental evolution should be expected to have taken place across taxonomic groups for species exploiting similar niches, (4) that divergence in mental ability should also have taken place where related species have exploited dissimilar niches.

Experimental data of higher mental abilities in animals concur with a Darwinian explanation for the distribution of these cognitive abilities and no anomalies have been found.

There are, as a consequence, significant implications for the welfare of animals subject to training when training methodology gives little or no consideration to the various mental abilities of species.